bill benter

It’s suggested by some that Bill Benter is the world’s most successful gambler. While estimates of his worth are largely speculation, they range from several hundred million to more than $1 billion. And he won all of it on the punt. So how on earth did he achieve this? And is this sort of success possible for any punter, given the right opportunities? Let’s track his journey.

1. Benter’s beginnings

Bill Benter grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and always had a mathematical mind.

He studied physics at university, but his destiny changed when, by a quirk of fate, he came across a copy of the famous gambling bible ‘Beat the Dealer‘, by Edward Thorp. Thorp is known to many as “The Godfather of Card Counting”, and his methods spoke directly to Thorp’s mathematical mind. Benter had an aptitude for the probabilities involved, so got to work memorising every detail of Thorp’s book. Then it was time to put it into action.

2. Bill Benter takes on Las Vegas

Bill Benter was keen to use his natural mathematic prowess and his newly-learned blackjack and card-counting skills to make a profit. Predictably, he chose Las Vegas and its myriad of casinos as target.

Thorp’s approach, as adopted by Benter, is reasonably common knowledge these days. Players gain an advantage by counting cards – keeping track of the number of high and low cards that come of the deck, and therefore knowing the value of the cards that are left in the dealer’s deck. From there, it’s a matter of waiting for the right time to strike. When there are a high ratio of high-value cards (such as 10s and aces) left in the deck, the chances of drawing a desired card fall into the player’s favour. If the player then sticks to the optimal strategy for blackjack – known as basic strategy – the odds are tipped in their favour.

It’s not a simple process, requiring the player to memorise large amounts of information and then use it to make split-second decisions as cards are dealt. But for those who can master it and play accurately for long enough, the odds say they’ll end up in front.

Benter was one who was able to master card counting. While it’s impossible to know just how much he won, Benter spent seven years in Vegas playing full-time.

As knowledge of card counting grew, the exponents of it became public enemy #1 for casinos! These players were winners, and winners are not welcome in casinos. The houses banned card counting and upped their efforts to quickly identify those doing it – including employing card counters as lookouts. Inevitably, Benter was caught up in the crackdown and was banned by all Vegas casinos.

3 Benter beats roulette?

This part of Benter’s tale is very light on evidence, but it’s fun speculation all the same. There are stories told that during his time in Las Vegas, Benter developed a system that was actually able to beat the odds at roulette. The system – that he supposedly created in his spare time in between playing blackjack – was said to be able to calculate the speed at which the roulette ball was travelling immediately after release. If a player could memorise the equation to measure the ball’s speed, note the ball’s entry point and instantly calculate the formula in their head, they would supposedly be able to determine which quadrant of the wheel it would end up in.

Again, it’s never been confirmed. But it’s some story!

4 Bill Benter meets Alan Woods

Around the time they’d both been banned from casinos, Benter met a fellow blackjack professional, Alan Woods. Woods had studied to be an actuary but was an all-round gambler and a horse racing expert. The two joined forces in 1984 and set about turning their success in Vegas into a consistent edge at the racetracks of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is one of the world’s biggest horse racing markets. Crucially, there are plenty of casual punters more focused on luck than worrying about winning long-term.

Benter, Woods and a third member, Wally Sommons, worked together on a horse racing system that backed favourites. They quickly discovered that if they bet on overlays they had a decent edge. However, it took some time before their efforts were rewarded.

Over the course of two years, the team managed to give away most of their $150,000 starting bankroll. But after another couple of cash injections, they managed to get their system working. They made $100,000 profit in their third year.

5 Bill Benter goes solo

In 1987 the team split up following disputes over money. Benter was determined to continue on his own, taking the early model and building it into something more powerful. The focus of Benter’s model was to determine the various factors in racing and then weigh them accordingly.

The tool Benter used for this was known as multinomial logit regression. This tests factors to determine their significance as to the outcome of a race – more specifically, if it leads to the horse winning. The multinomial logit regression model then calculates the weighting of the factors.

In the early days, Bill Benter started out with only 16 form factors to determine the outcome of a race. Many of the factors were calculated manually and databases were created from scratch. Over time the number of factors grew more than 100 as Benter incorporated not only statistics but also video analysis and subjective form factors. Benter’s model allows him to determine the ‘true odds’ of every runner in a race and only bet on overlays. He also uses the same mathematical techniques to bet on the huge exotic pools in Hong Kong.

Since 1987 Benter’s and his team have won incredible amounts in Hong Kong. These days he also spends his time lecturing on mathematics and statistics at Harvard, Hong Kong and Southampton. Much of his time is also dedicated to philanthropy, through the Benter Foundation, and he also has a considerable presence in politics and makes regular political donations.

It’s an amazing rise from humble beginnings.

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